WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Project Goodness is a new and truly innovative non-profit! We got started with a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant last year and piloted our program in public elementary schools throughout Los Angeles. We teach children in 5th grade about philanthropy and why people volunteer, guiding students in a 10 week class that includes them choosing a charity and then planning and producing their own service-learning project. Our motto is “every little bit counts” and the students learn that even as young children, they really can make a powerful impact in the world.
WHAT’S SO INNOVATIVE?
Three key things:
First, our 10 week program is FREE to public elementary schools. Teachers and school leaders love that we bring in a full-service, standards-based educational program that supplements their curriculum in a meaningful way, without creating more work for their faculty or expense for their schools during these tough budget times.
Second, the primary focus of our program is to empower children to understand that they can make a difference in the world, starting with the people around them every day. We don’t simply say, “today we’re going to do a community service project” or even “here’s why you should be nice to your peers.” We start by teaching 5th graders on the cusp of middle school and major psycho-social development to be aware of opportunities for goodness – looking outside of themselves to see others’ perspectives and life circumstances. We talk about what it means to give someone a meaningful “put up” when they observe someone doing something good (versus “put downs”) – beyond simple “I like your outfit” — and how that makes them feel to give, or receive, authentic praise and recognition from a peer. Students write in “Goodness Journals” throughout the course about their own behavior and their reflections on goodness in their immediate surroundings and around the world. Each class collaboratively chooses a cause that interests them – children, animals or the planet — and then with our guidance (and collaboration with their classroom teachers), the students research and identify a specific charity they want to benefit. The class then collaborates to plan and implement their own service-learning project, educating their peers, schoolmates and parents about their efforts. The pride and sense of accomplishment students feel at the end of ten weeks as a result of their own efforts is remarkable.
Third, our program is hands-on and collaborative, enabling 5th graders to gain “real world” experience as they participate in standards-based lessons. As one example of a Goodness Project, students learned about the lack of clean water in many parts of the world, carrying gallon-sized jugs full of water across the playground to truly understand what it means when villagers — including children — must walk 2 hours or more each way for the water they need each day. Students studied the quality of that water and created an experiment to visualize the dirt and bacteria that is commonly found in water throughout Africa, and then watched as a 10-cent PUR packet cleaned that water before their very eyes and made it safe for drinking, tasting the results. The class in turn created a powerful presentation for their entire school, ultimately raising enough money to buy 2,150 PUR packets for villagers in Africa.
WHAT KIND OF RESULTS ARE WE GETTING?
So far, Project Goodness has worked with over 340 students at six public elementary schools in Los Angeles. The impact has been significant, and has had ripple effects. In the end-of-program surveys, students almost unanimously express excitement and pride in their newfound realization that you do not need to be a celebrity or a millionaire, or even an adult, to have an impact on the world.
As one child wrote recently in an evaluation, “One of my favorite lessons was when you taught us what it means to be a philanthropist, because after that lesson, I think I became one.”
Several Project Goodness participants have gone on to create their own fundraisers for charities they are passionate about, and one 5th grader is now in the process of founding his own nonprofit organization!
Teachers have unanimously sung high praise for Project Goodness, reporting in program evaluations that their students show more self-confidence, are kinder to one another, and see their peers more positively. Teachers have reported that students after our program are more accepting of students with special needs and those different from themselves, and one school saw a noticeable decrease in bullying that had been epidemic prior to Project Goodness.
Teacher feedback in our inaugural year has been very helpful in refining our program, leading to more clearly defined lesson plans with state standards and lesson objectives tied to 5th grade learning objectives, implementation of service-learning hands-on activities earlier in the course, and other refinements. And while raising money for other charities is not the primary objective of Project Goodness, it is not insignificant that the student-planned Goodness Projects have benefited Heifer International ($500 raised to purchase 4 goats and a flock of ducks to help villagers become self-sufficient), Operation Smile ($345 raised to perform a lifechanging cleft palate surgery and medical equipment), Rainforest Action Network ($365 raised to protect 365 acres of rainforest), and more. This charitable impact illustrates our motto, that “every little bit counts.” The differences expressed between our start-of program surveys (“I’m just a kid, what can I do?”) to the end of program (“you taught me that I can make a difference!”) are inspiring.